Governor Sam Brownback and his conservative brethren are on a mission. In his 2013 State of the State speech in early February, the Governor warned “watch out Texas, here comes Kansas,” in reference to his goal of eliminating the state income tax as a means of making Kansas the most business friendly state in the Union. Previous reporting on the “fight” between Texas and California over the more amenable business environment detailed the many critical non-tax-related attributes that make a state “business friendly.”
But what are the attributes that make Kansas “business friendly” or not? What may be the last best hope to make the state a vibrant place for new businesses to call home?
In 2012, the state legislature narrowly passed and Governor Brownback signed, a tax reform package that lowered personal income tax by 14 to 24 percent and eliminated it entirely for nearly 200,000 small businesses.
In his press release announcing passage, the Governor “likened Senate Sub. for House Bill 2117 to a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” This “shot of adrenaline” included a Kansas Legislative Research Department estimated $2.4 billion budget deficit by the beginning of fiscal year 2015. It was not clear how a deficit of almost 20% of a $13 billion state budget (PDF) is fiscally conservative, financially responsible or in any other way aligned with Republican principles of prudent management. The narrow passage prompted the Governor and his conservative allies to successfully purge moderate Republicans in favor of a more conservative class of legislators willing to be less thoughtful about the lawmaking entrusted to them.
So now that fiscal matters are in order, in what type of business-friendly environment do Kansans now live, work and play?
The legislature is now in the midst of a fight with the Kansas Supreme Court over what the Court has deemed unconstitutionally underfunded public schools.
For those businesses interested in moving to Kansas, the owners can look forward to sending their children to poorly funded schools. These schools may not yet be able to teach creationism or intelligent design, but the state school board is well versed in de-emphasizing the teaching of evolutionary biology, the cornerstone of scientific understanding. Which means that the employees needed by these new Kansas businesses will be at best undereducated if not completely unprepared to work in the 21st century.
This is probably why Education Week ranks Kansas 37th in its 2013 Quality Counts survey, including a D in K-12 achievement and a D+ in teaching performance. These are exactly the qualities any smart business owner seeks for both his or her own kids as well as for the training of his or her employees.
The social environment for new Kansas business owners is not much better. Kansas is home to the well-known Westboro Baptist Church. New business owners, their families and employees can enjoy the sight of the church’s hateful protests at local high school graduation ceremonies in neighboring Lawrence and Eudora.
Lawrence may be familiar to many Americans as the home to the University of Kansas. It is certainly not a place for new business owners to locate. The Kansas “Capitol Commission” recently prayedto restore this “dark spiritual area” of Kansas:
In a one-page list of Capitol Prayers being passed around the Statehouse recently, prayer is urged for a number of Kansas leaders, including Gov. Sam Brownback and his staff, and for those who are ill or facing adversity within the Legislature and state government.Of course there are many other churches besides Westboro Baptist. Proud Kansas gun owners will keep you safe in church, unless they disagree with your politics. Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his own church in 2009 during Sunday morning services.
The list also states under the heading Intercessor's Challenge: "Target prayer for dark spiritual areas of SE Kansas, Lawrence, KCKS, North Johnson County — ask God to restore the land."
Dave DePue, the Kansas pastor for Capitol Commission, said the prayer was to improve the economies in those areas.
"We just seem to be stalled in getting this economy turned around," DePue said, although he added that Lawrence seems to be doing well economically.
Asked about the term "dark spiritual area," he said, "I don't know whether that is worded right, because Lawrence isn't losing population."
The list also included a prayer for the judicial system and asking God "to provide wisdom for restructuring the Kansas selection process."
For those interested in more peaceful protests of women’s reproductive rights, members of the Wichita community are currently constructing the “National Pro-Life Memorial and National Life Center” in the form of a replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The activists view the Western Wall as the embodiment of remembering Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and now want the wall to memorialize some 60 million aborted fetuses.
Speaking of gun politics, state Representative John Rubin just introduced a bill proclaiming “any personal firearm, accessory or ammunition that is owned or manufactured in Kansas and stays in the state would not be subject to federal law.
Any federal authorities trying to enforce any kind of rule on such a firearm would face possible prison time. It also would prohibit doctors, but not psychiatrists, from asking whether a patient owns a gun…Rubin said the measure would prevent any gun owned or produced in Kansas and remaining in the state from being controlled by "any past, present or future federal law, rule or regulation of any kind."The state Assistant Attorney General kindly pointed out that federal law always supersedes state law and that states do not have the ability to waive federal laws.
The saddest part of this story is that Kansas as it exists outside of conservative politics and social orthodoxy is an incredibly attractive place to live, work and play. The state hosts the intersection of three bi-coastal interstate highways. State electric rates are among the lowest in the country and the electric generation mix is well-diversified (and therefore protected against volatile swings in the price of a single fuel source). The state is a leader in wind energy development.
So, my hope is that a group of business owners take a good look at relocating to Kansas. Then I hope they decide not to come and I hope they announce the reason behind their decision not to come. I hope they stand up and say “there are a lot of reason Kansas was an attractive home for our business. We decided not to come because we don’t think citizens are well cared for. We don’t think they are educated properly to work for our business. We think public safety is seriously threatened by loose gun laws promoted by zealots willing to shoot first and ask no questions later. We are concerned about an adherence to a specific form of religion that dominates public life to the exclusion of any contradictory worldviews. Our business requires open dialogue and disagreement to be successful. This is apparently not encouraged in Kansas. And more than anything, we are concerned that fiscal irresponsibility forces us to locate in a state that provides important protection and quality services to citizens so that our employees show up ready to work. These requirements are not met by the state and we will avoid doing business there until the state is more business friendly."
That is my hope for the state of Kansas.